John Gray students get special surprise

The end of Year 11 in high school is a special time in every student’s life, but under current COVID-19 protocols, ceremonies to mark the occasion are now being conducted virtually.

For Year 11 students like Jodi-Ann Brown, having a school-leaving ceremony via a computer screen felt a bit weird.

“But it was OK because that was the best [the school] could do. All my friends were there…, so we still felt close to them,” she said.

However, on Friday morning, Brown and her fellow Year 11 classmates got a special surprise as John Gray High School Principal Jonathan Clark, Deputy Principal Patricia Forbes, teaching and learning coordinator Ruel Haughton, and learning mentor of the Tarpon Academy Neil Lumley, stopped by students’ homes – at an appropriate social distance.

“You know, in the past, we would have had a church service in the morning and then we’d had a big party. We normally do a great big water party… water fete in the afternoon. [On Thursday] we had to do it all virtually and all online, but it’s really just showing them that life goes on. The teachers are still here for them,” said Clark.

The John Gray team rolled up outside the students’ homes in a specially decorated bus with photos of each of the Year 11 teachers in the windows, complete with messages of love.

Haughton came up with the idea to surprise the students.

“We normally have a really good relationship with the students in terms of their academics, pushing them to maximise or surpass their potential. So, seeing that they are not physically in school, we thought it’d be a really good idea to put the pictures of their teachers and the academy on the bus and go visit them,” he said, “so we could actually support them in any way that we can emotionally; just let them know that they’re there for them regardless.”

From left, John Gray High School Year 11 student Joel Taylor Jr., with school officials Neil Lumley, Jonathan Clark, Patricia Forbes and Ruel Haughton on Friday during the surprise visit. – Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

Student Joel Taylor Jr. was emotional as he came out his home to greet the John Gray team.

“It is a really good feeling to know my teachers come around to check up on us. They are really good teachers, they are special, and they make us feel special as well,” he said.

Taylor said graduating virtually was a “unique” experience and is not something that anyone is used to.

Classmate Denele Watson agreed, but she said the surprise on Friday took the cake.

“I feel like I missed out on a lot of activities, but this made it all extra special. Thank you so much and I miss you guys and I will miss you guys for a long time. I’ll come back and visit when this over,” she said.

Taylor said he was grateful for the time spent at John Gray.

“Thank you for everything for the five years you put up with us. We really appreciate it. My fellow students thank you all. Thank you, my classmates, it’s really a humble blessing to be with you guys,” he said.

Forbes said the school group presented each student with a cupcake and lots of “words of encouragement”, as well as a science study packet to assist with upcoming exams.

All members of the John Gray team are deemed essential workers and have permission to deliver school material packages for the students who are currently preparing for final exams.

“I’m really elated. I am just so excited. I mean the enthusiasm continues out there in the virtual learning world and I’m just so grateful that we were able to do this, considering the restrictions we have,” she said. “I am very thankful. I think it’s going to just encourage them more in terms of preparing for the exams, knowing that we’re still there for them, that we haven’t just let them go.”

The John Gray team visited 12 students during their cross-island tour on Friday.

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